My Side of the Fence

The danger isn't going too far. It's that we don't go far enough.

Where we are

There appears to be some confusion about where we our in our budgeting process so let me lay it all out.  In a "normal" year the Council would have about 15 meetings to go over the budget.  During these meetings, Council members can place items they have questions about or oppose on the "open items list".  This list also includes all additions to the budget as well as all tax rates and transfer to the schools.  This list is considered in what is usually the penultimate budget meeting called "mark up".  Whatever comes out of mark up is usually presented as the Council's budget at a public hearing.  The public hearing is followed by a budget work session, usually short, to consider public input.  Whatever comes out of that meeting is presented at "First reading" and is voted on.  This followed by "second reading" which is normally a formality.  So, it looks like this:

5-year forecast & guidance to staff (fall of previous year)
City Manager presents his budget
Public hearing (citizen's time too) on Manager's budget
15-ish budget meetings to review budget
Mark Up
Finance Chair normally presents Council budget
Public Hearing on Council budget
budget work session to consider
First reading
Second reading

So, the vote at the budget work session after the public hearing to forward the Council's budget to first reading was 4-2.  However, at the conclusion of this "final" work session, a couple of Council Members asked that members submit ideas for cutting the budget and requested an additional meeting.  This is most unusual (not bad, just unusual) as the work session after the public hearing is always the final budget meeting.

A few days later, the Mayor did call that meeting and from that meeting a compromise was reached that reduced the budget a further 2 cents on the operating side.  The result of that action was a ~$450,000 reduction in school spending (but they're still getting $1.3 million more than last year).  The real reduction to the schools is about ~$200k as they are getting about $250k more than they had budgeted.  The school folks were not pleased with this development but I have confidence that they will make it work.

On the City side, we deferred our economic development department for 6 months and eliminated one position from the City staff.  The deferral will happen without much fuss: we won't be hiring anyone for Economic Development until after we have a new Manager and that ain't happening until September, I would expect.  

The vote on this compromise was 4-2 with Mssrs. Aveni and Lovejoy voting no.  These actions bring the tax increase down to just over 7%.  That's still a lot but better than it was.  This compromise is what will be brought forth on Monday night for First Reading.  

My reflection on all of this is that the city would have been better served if Council would have provided guidance to staff on CIP spending in the five year forecast instead of just putting in $0. We told staff to prepare a CIP plan that fit their best judgement.  Some were surprised by the scope of the plan that emerged.  I'm not sure why.  Of course, I was in the minority on that vote so maybe I should re-examine my dissent….:)  In any event, the only problem that we might have (well, not the only one) is that by cutting the budget a bit we may have created a bit of a hole to be filled next year when we have to pay for the full year of those economic development staffers.  I believe that if the economy continues on its current modest path, we'll be fine.  If it doesn't, we'll have to take action.  That's the way it goes.



  1. You are correct on the CIP guidance – the Five Year Forecast is a management tool from the Council to the Staff in order to begin planning; and turned into a political drama.  As for what resulted from the Joint CIP Process, that was excellent as identified all the known issues, and some items which are "future think".
    It is unfortunate though when looking at "eliminated one position from City Staff" – that being the Housing Planner & Advocate – the evolution of the position from just satisfying the lawsuit requirements to being a contributor to economic factors in the City was ignored.  Plus by tossing the expertise of a Housing Planner, the Council's approved Strategic Plan will have a large hole in it that in the end, a contract will most likely have be let for Housing Revitilization efforts as the capability to perform it in-house will be gone.
    But then again, Housing Revitilization is not as award-winning as cleaning up portions of the City…which also are one-shots without a full analysis and follow-on plan.

  2. Cindy beat me to it this morning… how it was filed online under "Virginia Politics".  Good call for the correct category as it sure was not economic benefit to the City by retaining 57 people in their homes in FY12 and assisting 10 new home buyers thereby contininuing over $200K in RE Taxes coming into the coffers.

  3. I thought it was brave of Lauren Monroe to speak out about how medical bills can tip you over into threatened foreclosure, and how the housing advocate helped her. I know of another the city's housing advocate assisted because medical bills led to lost work, and ultimately, the loss of the family home. Ray, you and I disagree on Neighborhood Services – I wouldn't call the neighborhood conference, Big Day of Serving and seven weeks of Week of Hope each summer one-shot deals. They have been capacity building tools to get residents engaged in their communities for several years now. The May 4 event alone accomplished 3,400 volunteer hours for the City. They are repeated as part of ongoing assets based community development. The city brought in a national expert on assets based community development at the first neighborhood conference in 2008 and the city hasn't  veered from that proven concept since. In fact, the city has done more, with the AmeriCorps and Keep Virginia Beautiful grants, the weekend food pack and summer feeding programs, the community and school gardens, the partnership on healthy communities with Walgreens, and the strong partnership with the Boys & Girls Club.  Both the housing advocate and Neighborhood Services are invaluable.  The city excels when it does "more" not just "enough."  The compromise cuts are short-sighted, in my opinion.

  4. Cindy, my point on Neigborhood Services is, and always has been since the beginning, "without a full analysis and follow-on plan".  PWC in October 2008 had a contractor come in who performed a Neighborhood Study Report and provided recommendations. This was done by the national outfit Community Planning & Design.
    That report looked at Overcrowding, Code Enforcement, Parking Issues, Hoarding, Neighborhood Cleanups, and recommended code changes – all which contributed to further clarifying and expanding the mission of PWC Neighborhood Services which operates with a plan, and does an analysis of what is working and what is not.
    The assest based development process works when there is an ongoing analysis, and updating plans. This City does not have a plan – at least one that has never been published.  And now with the look toward NS taking over revitilization….well, the "pilot" was started without a plan which included a housing planner, and the end report reflects the result of not operating with a plan.
    As for several of the other projects/programs that have been successful – how many were started by others vs. NS?  How many were because of other interested persons taking the lead?  NS has done good projects; however, my bottom line is still where is the full analysis and plan aside from one program/project ends, let us plan for next year?

  5.   You can have a great plan on paper — I was one of many who helped the county neighborhood leaders group come up with their strategic plan — and it can sit there while you wait for the paid leaders to get in place and motivate the volunteer citizens to execute it. The county has gone through at least three coordinators in the last several years – that has had an impact. The city has the continuity of solid staff who have worked above and beyond to build social capital in the city's neighborhoods.  You ask Walgreens or other community partners where their motivation came from to start their program or project. Ask volunteers why they keep coming back. I've had not one but three community activists tell me they are applying to Leadership Prince William for the 2013-2014 year — people I met through Neighborhood Services projects and programs.  Look at the county site – it's a mirror for what the city is doing.  "Communities cannot sustain themselves without social capital." When I helped found Write by the Rails, which is now a chapter of the Virginia Writers Club with 160 local networking writers, I didn't have to look farther than my own Weems neighborhood, where five published or soon to be published writers live. Asset based community development, like economic gardening, is mining what is already there, right in front of us. 

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